Brac student chosen new tourism ambassador

Cayman Brac’s Anitha Velusamy won top prize – and the crown as Cayman Islands Tourism Ambassador 2013-2014 – during Friday’s Department of Tourism “Speak-Off,” which was part of global celebrations marking World Tourism Day.

Finishing ahead of three competitors, Ms Velusamy, 16, a student at Layman E. Scott High School in Stake Bay, was selected by a four-judge panel on the basis of an essay, her knowledge of the subject, the content of her presentation and her delivery during a one-hour debate regarding tourism promotions and programs.

At the end of the department-sponsored event, supported by the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, the Ministry of Tourism and Transport, and the Ministry of Education, Ms Velusamy said she was not only “very relieved” to have completed the competition, but “I feel very rewarded as well, and hope that in the next year to be exposed to learn more of the tourism industry that I do not know about.” Nearly 150 people crowded into the Orchard Ballroom at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort, dominated by students, teachers, parents and staff from the three schools represented on the debate platform: Layman Scott, George Town’s Cayman Prep and High School; and West Bay’s Grace Christian Academy.

Also attending were a smattering of students from Clifton Hunter High School, John Gray High School and the Cayman Island’s Further Education Centre’s hospitality division.

Moderated by Ministry of Tourism officials, the event comprised presentations on three topics by each of the four contestants, followed by a one-minute rebuttal.

The opening round called on each of the four debaters – selected by the Department of Tourism after a summertime essay contest – to recommend policies boosting multi-generational tourism, described as three generations, often within in a single family, traveling together.

Grace Christian’s Katie Scott, 16, said the critical factors encouraging multi-generational tourism were convenience, value and an assurance the tour was “a place to make memories,” suggesting that pricing, vehicle rentals and customer service should improve.

Cayman Prep’s Jade Ramnarine, 15, said social media such as Facebook and Twitter should be exploited as marketing tools, especially among Europeans, who form only 6 percent of Cayman’s tourists. She recommended promotional campaigns at London’s Heathrow Airport, staff training through both The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman and Disney Cruise Lines, longtime experts in multi-generational tourism; Sister Islands tour programs; testimonials from local and international celebrities; and packages built around family events such as weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and reunions.

Ms Velusamy said grandparents no longer wished to wait at home for photographs, seeking instead to participate, citing statistics that 21 million people took multi-generational trips in 2012.

”It is our job to take away the hassles” of such travel, she said, recommending group activities centered on family celebrations. Accommodations across a wide range of options – condos, guest houses, private residences and others – should be available, possibly extending the average 6.8-day stay of such groups.

Grace Christian’s Ryan Burke described his own multi-generation travels, “with 18 family and friends last summer in Alaska” as “the most amazing of my life,” and suggested that family groups be expanded to include step-parents, aunts, uncles and others. Tour operators, hotels and restaurants could develop activities and various schedules, such as hiking, water sports, park visits, night-market tours and even segmented private time for adults and children.

The four subsequently delivered their thoughts on the subject of agricultural tourism, citing grass-roots links to local culture and tradition and advocating farm and fishing tourism, in particular North Side’s “Mr. Willie”; year-round exposure through festivals, restaurants and special presentations to local products and their culinary uses; cooking classes; an introduction – and chance to buy in specially marked packages – Cayman family remedies and indigenous “bush medicines such as aloe vera, fever grass, leaf of life and other plants and herbs.

Arts, crafts and visits to wellness centers, district spas, rum shops and community-based programs, including such traditional sites as Pedro St. James, all found a place among the recommendations.

The final debate subject was a surprise “mystery topic,” previously unannounced, designed to test the competitors’ ability to think on their feet.

Judges asked for a single recommendation on the conservation of Cayman’s water resources and its links to tourism.

Ms Velusamy suggested all hotels should change old appliances – from toilets and spigots to dishwashers and laundry facilities – for energy-saving and water-sparing “smart” installations.

Ms Scott said tourists should be informed of water-conservation measures and that boaters and divers should be instructed not to touch coral, while “youth-based marketing initiatives would get the attention of many.”

Mr. Burke reviewed the critical position uses of water resources on tourism and among a small-island community, advocating recycling and re-use.

Ms Ramnarine, without naming the long-delayed National Conservation Bill, said government should nonetheless promote the idea, suggesting that the “Go East” initiative could be employed as an environmental protection tour and that diving courses should be linked to conservation programs.

The judges – Ingrid Powell of Toastmasters; Clive Baker from the Ministry of Education; Jane Van der Bol, CITA executive director; and Lindsay Japal, reigning Miss Cayman – awarded Ms Ramnarine fourth spot and a $100 prize package. Ms Scott finished third, taking a $200 gift voucher. Mr Burke was runner-up, taking home a check for $500.

Ms Velusamy won a $1,000 prize donated by CITA, two Cayman Airways tickets and appointment as 2013/14 Tourism Ambassador, in which role she will appear throughout the year, speaking at festivals, conferences and a range of tourism-related events.